I wrote this analysis several days in advance of the first debate between Clinton and Trump, because the content of the debates really doesn’t make any difference.
Voters are led by emotion
In their voting behaviour, voters are led by emotion; facts and opinions are pressed into service after the event to rationalize their decision. In this protracted campaign, virtually every voter has already decided who they’re going to vote for. Even if some of them don’t realize it yet, and they’re still searching for a rationalization – in fact their mind was made up long ago.
Debates provide voters with a rationalisation
In this election the two most unpopular candidates ever are pitted against one another. Both of them have already had so much public exposure, over such a long period of time, that three little debates are not going to transform aversion to approval. The only thing the debates can do is provide voters with a rationalization for voting for one or other of the candidates in spite of that aversion.
All Trump has to do is control his tongue
Trump clearly has the advantage here: the aversion to Trump is based on the mass of denigrating, untruthful and divisive comments he has notched up. All he has to do is control his tongue – and he has frequently demonstrated that he is capable of this. The aversion to Clinton, on the other hand, is based on distrust – people doubt her integrity. This is the result of many years of Republican hate campaigns, crowned by cunning framing ploys by Trump and mistakes by Clinton herself. This image is much more difficult to change in a couple of hours – let alone in the couple of soundbites that most people retain.
People will still distrust Clinton
Clinton can deliver an immaculate debate performance, and people will still distrust her. Trump merely has to show himself at his most reasonable and he may be given the benefit of the doubt.
More on the Clinton-Trump debate